Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ra ra, ra ramen in Hongdae. Cupcakes, too.

When the weather is as prohibitive as it has been, what with the temperature being somewhere between "oh god I can't feel my face" and "call the police", it's hard to imagine taking a walk in any of Seoul's fashionable districts without risking death by exposure. Me, I'm from California, where temperature rarely drops below comfort level, and when it does everyone begins to sin indoors rather than out.

Friday, I was screaming on the inside every second I was exposed. I believe I became another gender at one point when a gust found its way up my pant leg. There is no forgiving nature for what it did to me that day.

Though as is often the case, the food made up for it. We traveled to Hongdae, braving the cold, to get our hands on some ramen. In Los Angeles, I was a frequent customer of the many ramen shops in Little Tokyo, most notably Daikokuya. I have missed that experience in Seoul, where ramen seems hard to come by.

Taking the advice from several bloggers, we chose to try Hakatabunkko (ํ•˜์นดํƒ€์ฝ”), a very small restaurant with a bar and about four small tables situated in an alley near the Far East Broadcasting company. At first we were a bit confused about the location. It's tucked quietly away down this alley that looks like it was reserved for gang violence, with graffiti on the walls and that "you're going to get stabbed" vibe. Maybe its Los Angeles rubbing off on me more than I'd like it to. But, without being stabbed, we found it, two white drapes hanging from the doorway with words written in Japanese decorating them.

One couple was ahead of us, and so we were asked to stand behind a sandwich board in front of a tiny cupcake restaurant called Sweetpea. More on that soon. Not two minutes later, we had a table and were ready to order. We both ordered the kontotsu ramen, a style of ramen in which the broth is conceived by mating savory pork fat with everything that's right with the world. This is to say that the broth is heavy, but not obstructing; when you lift the thin, wisp-like noodles you can feel their weight on your tongue and not feel as though your tongue is coated in wax.

All of the flavors mingled together like the melting pot America was supposed to have been. On our table was a garlic press and a small pot filled with whole cloves of garlic. I pressed one in to my soup while my friend Dan pressed about ten. Also on the table were pickled ginger, spicy kimchi, and sesame seeds in a grinder.

As far as ramen goes, I have had better in Los Angeles. But in Seoul? Not as of yet.

After dinner, we were enthralled by a cupcake cafe next door called Sweetpea because of their display of tiny cupcakes. Being the two manly men that we are, we decided to head in and order these dainty pastries. The cafe has two sizes of cupcake to choose from, large (3,800 won) and small (900 each). I chose dark chocolate and strawberry, while Dan picked green tea and peanut butter.

We took a seat at a pale green table with pin-up cushions on the seats and stared awkwardly at each other. Dan noted that this was the type of place you would take a girl, and I giggled and told him to stop it. Our cupcakes came on a small plate, and in between taking pictures and being in awe of how cute the place was, I realized that the cake itself had been made recently as I watched the adorable baker mix up another batch of batter and that the frosting had been made to order. I appreciate the craft of the cupcake, and though some might call them a 'fad', it's a damn cute fad and I'm not afraid to say that. I'm all man (recognize).

Having given up my masculinity, I will say that the cake itself was a bit dry but crisp, an interesting combination and one I've never had in a cupcake. The frosting was sweet but not overly, the cocoa in my mini chocolate balanced with the chocolate cake, and the strawberry was fresh and nostalgic.

It's a good thing these two are next to each other. After a large bowl of ramen, it's nice to have something sweet to follow up that garlicky goodness. Even if you are left as manly as a four year old.

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